Monday, March 14, 2011

Nonchalant - word of the day

We are on a NOT-BREAK. The Institute, and all the schools, are on holiday but we are not. We are "working from home" ...

Maybe foolishly we chose this time to go north (up near the Thai border) and see the larger city of Kota Bharu - which we heard has big SHOPPING CENTRES ... and stuff like that.

So we went, right after work on Thursday (that's the weekend, remember?) Not really a long way, but fairly slow going through the endless villages (cows, goats, ducks on the road, not to mention obviously un-licensed drivers!) taking about 3 hours. [Coming back we came down that 'big' number 3 road inland, and it really wasn't any different except that there was less chance of getting lost.]

So we did find a couple of actual Shopping Centres:

That might not seem very exciting, but we don't have anything like that here in Kuala Terengganu. We have a "Giant" store which is like a big supermarket and there are lots of sort of little stalls kind of in the foyer of it - not separate shops like in a shopping centre as we know it.

So ... mostly KB was just more of the same as in KT, only more so.

More congested, people-more-unfriendly footpaths with steep steps, smelly open drains, and usually no footpath at all. To cope with the tiny streets and heavy traffic they have developed a fairly haphazhard system of one-way streets. And as a long-term prospect they are building a system of huge flyovers but they are still in the mud-and-mess stage of roadworks.

There were quite a lot of buildings like this here in the city centre and also in the countryside. The windows have all been bricked up, and there are little pipes inserted into the bricks. As you walk past the building there is a huge racket of birds squawking - outside the air is full of swooping swallows. We can only presume they are inviting them in and collecting their guano. This is an older building, but some of them are very new looking, with the glass windows propped open and bricked up.

The weather turned wet, and wetter, and quite miserable (still hot though), and we decided to go for a drive to find the beach - we thought that KB was a place to go to the beach, unlike KT where people only go there to fly kites and they are basically scared of the water, apparently. We were puzzled by the heavy traffic on the way to the beach, and even more by the number of people who were there on a Friday evening.

It was almost impossible to get a parking spot, and the little tarpaulin-cover 'restaurants' were packed with people chowing down ...

What seemed even more weird was the people sitting watching the sea ... This is definitely not how people normally behave down in Terengganu.

But the next morning when we were handed a newspaper (in English) it began to make sense.

We didn't know about the tsunami - but they did, and they were looking for it! Of course, Malaysia was basically protected by the Philippines in this case.

We were puzzled therefore that the police on the other side of the country in Kuala Lumpur were warning people. So in Terengganu state the police were turning people away from the beaches - all the way up to Besut, south of where we were.

What seems really amusing is the little comment right in the middle of this news report:

"While most revellers heeded police warnings, some appeared nonchalant and needed to be chased away."

Well, that seems to sum these people up. Nonchalant. That's how they drive and everything. Kind of relaxing really. Gotta love 'em!

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Five Steps of Mr Tae's Retirement

If we were Malays we wouldn't be able to work here, we are already at retirement age - it used to be 56, but a few years ago they put it up to 58.

Mr Tae, one of the chaps in our department, has just retired after 37 years in the service, at least 17 at the institute. His retirement had five (5) stages ...

1. First there was a special (free) lunch for faculty in the Institute canteen - fried chicken and rice and watermelon. (We attended, but I did not partake - the chaps did, and declared it tasty.)

2. Then there was a meeting of all faculty in the "Dewan" hall.

Lots of speeches - in Bahasa Malysia, with the chaps behind us occasionally explaining or translating for us. And then presentations of gifts from each department to the retiree. Also a gift was given to everyone who had had a birthday in the last three months (this picture).

3. The students had a special meal to honour their much-loved teacher. (We didn't attend)

4. The English Department had a special meeting to honour and farewell Mr Tae. We went along a little reluctantly, but found it a remarkably moving experience.

Although their expressions were sometimes a little childish, it was soon clear that these trainee teachers really appreciate this lecturer and he will be sorely missed.

There was musical drama showing how a boy with failing grades was lifted to a A++ ...

... and a large friendly banner ...

... and a Chinese dragon (Mr Tae, of course, is Chinese) for which he was asked to paint a red dot on the eyeball ...

... and by the time the choir had sung "To Sir With Love" (and the big, friendly Chinese girl in the front row approached him and looked like she was going to kiss him but backed off at the last moment) ...

... there was hardly a dry eye in the house.

5. Then came the weekend, and yet another farewell to Mr Tae - this time from just the staff of the English Department, and a few outside guests. It was on the Friday (weekends being Friday and Saturday) in a hotel, for which privelege we were asked to pay 30 ringgits (about $10) each. Well, we grumbled a bit (expecting a few hours of being surrounded by people joking in Bahasa Malaysia and not having a clue what's happening), but we got dressed in our best batik, and went anyway.

Well, they had booked a very lavish buffet meal (afternoon tea, 3.30pm) in a posh hotel on the island Pulau Duyong in the middle of the Terengganu river - with views across the river and harbour to the city and out through the river mouth.

The food was amazing - even I found some very pleasant morsels - and they all spoke in English almost the whole time! There were a few speeches, and little ceremonies ... like a birthday cake (it was actually his 58th birthday, time to retire!).

It was a great chance to get to know some of our colleagues better, and even remember a few names - we find especially hard with the women, they can all look so similar!

It was great, right up until they started the karaoke - well, what would you expect!

The last few days have demonstrated how loving and close-knit our department is, and how well they care for the students. We are looking forward to working with these people more over the next 3 years.

A Colourful Parade

We watched from our office window as the whole institute and primary school marched past singing and carrying banners.

We were not expected to participate, and when asked what it was about they merely explained that it was to do with their religion and culture ... and it was something to do with the prophet's birthday (again!).

The girls were as colourful as they always are, and the boys were all wearing something like silk pyjamas with something like a small tablecloth wrapped around the waist - traditional Malay. Oh, and the little black (or white) hats too.

Earning My Umbrella

They said it was "English Week", and there would be competitions.

We work in the English Department of the Institute, but this seemed to be an attempt by the other departments to raise awareness and skill levels in English. Firstly there was a Choral Speaking event. Due to various factors, this event had to be held (annoyingly) in the evening (9pm after the last prayer session) - but we went home after work and then drove back in for it anyway.

It was quite surprising and amazing - we had never seen anything quite like that, especially performed by adults.

The lively antics of the conductor were especially fun to watch - there is no background music or beat, she had to keep them spot-on with timing.

Then there was an "Action Songs" competition the nxt afternoon - the trainee teachers presented nursery rhymes and the like, and dressed up as one would expect pre-schoolers to.

The following afternoon there was a "Sketch" competition, and groups presented short plays (15 minutes, in English) - and I was asked to be one of the judges.

On the last afternoon we had the closing ceremony and prizes were awarded. Every group in every competition received a prize - and they were all the same. First they awarded "Consolation" prizes, and then third, then first, then second.

And then they gave gifts to the judges. And I got my umbrella!